Kent and Middlesex ease into finals
Middlesex 141 for 2 (Henderson 59*) beat Durham 138 for 6 (Chanderpaul 48, Murtagh 3-29) by eight wickets
For all Durham's class on paper they were never in the match from the moment their openers fell early. The eight overs from Shaun Udal and Murali Kartik cost just 36 runs as the boundaries dried up. It left Middlesex with a very manageable rate, allowing Ed Joyce and Billy Godleman to begin with a measured opening stand.
Gareth Breese and Paul Wiseman struck in consecutive overs to give Durham a chance, but they were oddly subdued in the field and never gave the impression of having any belief. Steve Harmison, the day he was recalled by England, was mauled by Henderson, who also took a liking to Wiseman with three sixes on an over.
Henderson raced to his half-century off 19 balls and launched more sixes off his own bat than the other three team innings put together. It was a canter for Middlesex, who have developed an impressive strategy for this form of cricket after not making much of an impression previously.
A key to their success this season has been the impact of their five-pronged balanced attack. Although Dirk Nannes had an off day, looking short of form after an injury lay-off, Tim Murtagh set the tone with an exemplary first over and the spinners kept the scoring rate down.
Udal also bagged the key wicket of Paul Collingwood, chipping a catch to deep midwicket, when he was threatening a substantial innings. Udal and Kartik varied their pace and flight, making scoring hard work on a surface that continues to lose its pace.
Durham never found any proper momentum with Shivnarine Chanderpaul using 47 balls for his 48. There appeared no real effort to accelerate as Chanderpaul and Will Smith batted a pace more akin to 50-over cricket than Twenty20. It meant the real striking power from the likes of Shaun Pollock and Liam Plunkett was given precious little time to shine, while the in-form Dale Benkenstein didn't even get a bat. It's going to be a long journey home.
Kent 173 for 7 (Denly 36, Bopara 3-36) beat Essex 159 for 8 (Pettini 54, Arafat 2-22) by 14 runs
Kent had to overcome a late burst from Ryan ten Doeschate, however, who threw everything at the spinners in a last-ditch attempt to chase down 174. Martin van Jaarsveld was flicked effortlessly over midwicket, followed by a crafty four that bisected the midwicket fielders as Essex needed 37 from 21. It appeared to spark James Foster briefly into life, too, but van Jaarsveld held a scorching drive at extra cover to remove Foster and again tip the balance in Kent's favour.
Kent excelled in the field, and they needed to. Earlier, Ravi Bopara and Mark Pettini, who crafted 54 from 47, were making the run-chase look facile. Bopara, in particular, batted with remarkable poise given the tension which enveloped the game, opting for orthodoxy over extravagance and flicking Ryan McLaren twice through midwicket, the second a flamingo-flick from the Kevin Pietersen manuel.
Essex's fifty was notched in the fifth over as McLaren and Simon Cook continued to leak runs, while Bopara guided a beautiful four straight out of Geraint Jones' gloves for four more. As ever, the introduction of spin changed the course of the match, with James Tredwell mixing up his pace beautifully to dismiss Bopara for 29. All eyes were on Graham Napier, one of this year's players of the tournament, but he fell to an outstanding running catch by Rob Key, sprinting - yes, sprinting - back from mid-off to hold onto a vital chance. It was a defining moment.
Pettini was unfazed, however, and brought up a calm 50 from 39 balls, but Kent continued to dazzle in the field. Grant Flower threatened with two powerful fours, and attempted a fierce cut to find his third boundary in 12 balls when he found van Jaarsveld lurking at backward point. Swooping with his right hand, he threw down the stumps while still kneeling, and Flower was comfortably short. Essex needed 60 from 35, and the pressure was beginning to tell.
"Yes, no...sorry" is the hapless call of many a club cricketer, but even on such grand stages as these, high-profile cricketers are left looking a little daft. Pettini drilled a full toss to mid-off as Foster came hurtling down the pitch, and he was run-out for 54. Tredwell completed his four overs, conceding just 26, and Essex were left with too much to do, falling 14 runs short.
Essex might have had to chase in excess of 174 had Bopara not restricted them with 3 for 36. Joe Denly's fine form continued, rasping 36 from 27 while Key played with typical selflessness in a bold 20 from 12. The introduction of Danish Kaneria removed Key and Yasir Arafat, but Kent fought back brilliantly with Azhar Mahmood's 24 from 19 balls, picking up two elegant fours over midwicket. Crucially, he was dropped by Maurice Chambers at long-on early in his innings, typifying a poor fielding display from Essex which ultimately cost them their place in the biggest final of Twenty20's history.
Will Luke and Andrew McGlashan are staff writers at Cricinfo